Here we go again: another day, another Bill designed to chase headlines and manufacture controversy, rather than tackle the asylum crisis that has been caused by the incompetence and indifference of the last 13 years. That said, a casual observer of the Prime Minister’s recent trip to Dover could be forgiven for thinking that it was all sorted—job done. There he was sporting his super-sized new boots and boasting about the slight decrease in crossings, while apparently failing to realise that strong winds in the channel were the actual cause of his somewhat premature celebrations. Since he danced his victory jig in Dover, we have seen channel crossings skyrocket, with the busiest June yet for the criminal people smuggling trade, with 3,824 asylum seekers making the dangerous journey last month. Call me old-fashioned, but an asylum strategy that is based on the weather is probably not a sustainable strategy.
Then we have the Home Secretary. She jetted off to Rwanda on a taxpayer-funded vanity photoshoot to champion the new housing being built for the asylum seekers she dreams of one day flying over there. But again, all was not as it seemed: the housing estate she was showcasing is largely due to be used to house Rwandan nationals. Last week, the Court of Appeal reminded her that, even if her plan does go ahead, the Rwandan authorities can process only around 100 asylum claims per year—less than 0.3% of last year’s small boat crossers. I am not sure what the Home Secretary plans to do with the other 99.7% of asylum seekers or, indeed, why she thinks a 0.3% chance of removal to Rwanda is likely to put off a single asylum seeker considering paying money to a people smuggler. For a deterrent to be effective, it must be credible, and a 0.3% risk of deportation to Rwanda is not going to deter.
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes these matters very seriously and he will remember that I was very complimentary about him in various ways in a debate in Westminster Hall. However, he must recognise that the deterrent effect of being processed offshore, which the Australians experienced during their Operation Sovereign Borders, would mean fewer people coming here. As he described, the people traffickers’ branding is that, if someone gets to Britain, they will never leave. By challenging that sales pitch, we will deter people from coming.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I think he misunderstands the basic psychology here. We are talking about people who have already risked life and limb and taken a very dangerous journey to get as far as the channel. The idea that a 0.3% chance of being removed to Rwanda is going to deter people who have already taken such massive risks is simply for the birds, and that is why the Rwanda scheme is fundamentally flawed.
Last but not least, we have the Immigration Minister, whose latest foray into playing the tough guy was to order that Mickey Mouse cartoons in immigration centres be painted over because they were just too cheery for his liking. Many of those children are running away from unimaginable horrors, so I really do hope that the Minister will take some time to reflect on the morality of his actions. The sheer pettiness and petulance are also quite astonishing, because painting over Disney characters in immigration centres will not stop the boats—I cannot believe I even need to say those words. Those three short stories about the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister make it clear that we are not exactly dealing with a well-oiled machine here.
Last week, we finally received the Home Office’s impact assessment for this legislation, which revealed that it will cost the Government £169,000 per asylum seeker sent to Rwanda—five times the figure being briefed out when the partnership was announced last year. That is on top of the £140 million that has already been handed over to the Rwandan Government for what must surely be the most expensive press release in history. This whole sorry tale is a shambolic farce, and the cost to the taxpayer of the Rwanda policy, this legislation and the asylum backlog has become utterly extortionate.
The cost of the asylum system is estimated by the National Audit Office to be seven times as large as it was under the last Labour Government—at an astonishing £3.6 billion. Almost 50,000 people are stuck in hotels, at £7 million a day, with 172,000 in the backlog. For the avoidance of doubt, that is the real backlog, not the imaginary “legacy cases” invented by the Prime Minister as a way of spinning the numbers. In fact, the backlog is nine times higher than it was when Labour left office in 2010. By the way, we are still waiting for the Immigration Minister and the Prime Minister to correct the record on this point after the UK Statistics Authority comprehensively demolished their claims.
As the Home Secretary and her officials have confirmed, numbers are going up, not down. Yesterday, the permanent secretary to the Home Office confirmed to the Public Accounts Committee that the Prime Minister is failing in his pledge to reduce asylum seeker hotel use. To make matters worse, the National Audit Office has declared that the Government will also fail to achieve their aim of clearing the so-called legacy backlog of 92,000 cases by the end of this year.
We are here to discuss rather a lot of Lords amendments. The hon. Gentleman has now been speaking for six minutes. I have been listening hard and, by my reckoning, he has not mentioned a single amendment. Can he give us an ETA for when he is likely to start talking relevantly about what we are here to discuss? Many of us would like to discuss the amendments.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I simply note that the Immigration Minister was on his feet for one hour and 15 minutes. There was plenty of context and background in his comments, too. We need to understand that the Bill has been brought forward against a backdrop of crisis and chaos and it is important that we have that on the record.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister seems to have concocted a new solution, which is simply to allow asylum seekers to slip off the radar, never to be seen or heard of again. The Government claim that their decision-making rate has increased and that they are getting on with clearing the backlog, but the reality is that more than half of the so-called asylum decisions are withdrawn applications or so-called administrative decisions. In other words, asylum seekers are melting into the underground economy, and many of them will never be heard of or seen again by our authorities. The Government are just letting them go. Withdrawals, as a proportion of completed cases, have increased from 20% to 55% on this Prime Minister’s watch. If that is not turning a blind eye to people absconding and disappearing into the system, I do not know what is.
It is against that backdrop of crisis and chaos that Ministers introduced the legislation before us this afternoon. As we have consistently pointed out, the Bill will only make a terrible situation worse. Far from cleaning up the awful mess that has built up over 13 years of ineptitude, it will simply grow the backlog, increase the cost and ensure that people smugglers are laughing all the way to the bank.
At the heart of the Bill are two instructions to the Government—to detain and remove every asylum seeker who comes to the UK via irregular routes—but with our asylum accommodation capacity already at breaking point, where on earth will the Home Secretary detain them? And with her unworkable Rwanda plan in tatters and with negotiations with the EU on a successor to the Dublin regulation nowhere to be seen, where on earth is she going to remove them to? We therefore commend the work of all the Lords and Baronesses who have sought to improve this profoundly flawed and counterproductive Bill. They really had their work cut out for them, given that the Government were defeated a staggering 20 times in the other place.
Amendments throughout the Bill’s passage have focused on mitigating its most egregious excesses, while trying to steer the Government in the direction of Labour’s five-point plan to fix the broken asylum system that, despite their protestations, Conservative Members know full well is a comprehensive agenda based on hard graft, common sense and quiet diplomacy, rather than the headline-chasing gimmicks they have come up with. Our plan includes repurposing the Rwanda money to the National Crime Agency to recruit a specialist unit of officers to tackle the criminal gangs upstream. Lords amendment 103, in the name of Lord Coaker, places responsibility on the NCA to tackle immigration crime.
Of the other substantial Lords amendments, the majority seek to prevent the utterly unnecessary attacks on some of the most vulnerable people in society, commit Britain to complying with international law, or seek to find long-term solutions to the global asylum crisis via international solutions and controlled and managed routes.
To ensure that Britain meets its obligations under international law, we support Lords amendment 1, which adds a requirement that nothing in the Bill should require any act that would violate the UK’s relevant commitments under international law. We are extremely concerned that the Government are subjecting unaccompanied children to the so-called hostile environment. While the Minister paints over Mickey Mouse murals, we on these Benches want unaccompanied children to be treated with respect. That is why we support Lords amendment 33, which retains the current 72-hour limit on the detention of children, and Lords amendment 31, which retains the current 24-hour limit on the detention of unaccompanied children, both in the name of Baroness Mobarik. We do not believe the Government’s concessions offer enough.
I was superficially attracted to Lords amendment 1, but will the hon. Gentleman consider these two points? First, it is an established principle of interpretation that the courts will always read statute in accordance with international convention obligations, as far as it is possible to do so—that was most recently established in the Assange case. Secondly, Lord Wolfson raised the point in the other place that the effect of clause 1, as amended, however intended, is substantively to entrench or incorporate those conventions in UK domestic law. Surely that is not something that should be done through an amendment to an Act of Parliament. There may be arguments for or against it, but that is its effect. It is not an interpretive clause but an incorporative clause, and some of us have a problem with doing it in that way at this time in this particular Bill.
I thank the Chairman of the Justice Committee for that intervention. Let us not forget that page 1 says the Government cannot confirm that the Bill complies with international law. I also remind him that we are dealing with a Government who seem to be more than prepared to break international law, with the Northern Ireland protocol being just one example. I am afraid it is just not possible to take the Government’s word on trust or at face value, which is why additional safeguards have to be built into the process.
Lords amendment 8, in the name of Lord Dubs, seeks to ensure that asylum and human rights claims from unaccompanied children who are exempt from the duty to remove are treated as admissible, and Lords amendment 50, in the name of the Bishop of Durham, limits the Secretary of State’s power to transfer a child out of local authority care and into accommodation provided by the Home Office to cases where to do so is
“necessary to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.”
We are also determined to protect vulnerable women, particularly those who are pregnant or victims of modern slavery. In that spirit, we on these Benches support Baroness Lister’s amendments 37 and 38, which retain the 72-hour limit on the detention of pregnant women. We are less than satisfied with the Government’s concession on this point.
We support the amendments that protect victims of modern slavery, including Lords amendment 56 in the name of Lord Randall, which exempts victims of modern slavery from being removed and from being denied access to support during the statutory recovery period, and Lords amendment 57, tabled by Lord Carlile, which removes the Bill’s presumption that it is not necessary for victims of modern slavery to remain in the UK for the purposes of co-operating with any criminal proceedings against alleged perpetrators. That of course might sometimes be the case.
Ultimately, the Government need to accelerate the national referral process as a matter of urgency because the average wait time is 553 days, which is unacceptable. The Immigration Minister’s incorrect comments on modern slavery have been well documented, and he was recently rebuked yet again by the UK Statistics Authority for making those unfounded claims.
The constant stream of factually incorrect claims distorts the debate and plays into the hands of the people traffickers. I strongly encourage us to start seeing the facts and evidence before us as the basis for debate, otherwise there is such a danger that the Bill will turn into a traffickers charter, with the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister effectively enabling the criminal gangs.
We also support Lords amendment 23 in the name of Lord Etherton, as we cannot have a situation in which we remove LGBT refugees to third countries with Governments that pursue homophobic and transphobic policies.
I stress that, on these Benches, we are strongly committed to working with our international partners as we seek to find long-term solutions to the global migration crisis. In Committee and on Report, we tabled an international co-operation amendment to connect the need to achieve a returns deal with the EU and France for small-boat migrants with the need for Britain and other European countries to play our part in giving sanctuary to genuine refugees in need of our support, starting with those who have family in the UK. This remains our commitment for when we enter government.
To that end, we support Lords amendment 104 in the name of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which requires the Government to publish a 10-year strategy on countering human trafficking and responding to international refugee crises, and Lords amendment 102 in the name of Baroness Stroud, which places a duty on the Government to establish safe and legal routes to asylum.
Finally, Lord German’s amendment 9 rightly states that the Government should accept asylum claims if they have not removed inadmissible claimants within six months. We cannot have refugees stuck in indefinite limbo, unable to work or contribute, at an extortionate cost to the taxpayer. The Government are already introducing this bigger backlog Bill. It beggars belief that Ministers now want to turn this legislation into an indefinite limbo Bill.
The amendments before us today enjoyed substantial support in the other place, each passing by a comfortable margin. A responsible Government would have sought compromise and made concessions, but instead Ministers chose to double down, to the point where Parliament was treated to the spectacle of Lord Lebedev of Siberia being dragged in to vote for the first time since he was ennobled three years ago, in a desperately futile whipping operation.
The truth is that the Bill is just a tawdry and deeply counterproductive attempt to show that the Government are doing something—anything—to respond to a growing asylum crisis of their making. Those on the Government Benches know that the asylum system is broken—indeed, they admit it—and they should know because they broke it. Their attempts to fix it are a shambles. They have sent more Home Secretaries to Rwanda than asylum seekers. They have had two migration Bills, yet neither has stopped a single boat. This Bill—the bigger backlog Bill—will increase asylum hotel use all around the country.
Recently, before the Home Affairs Committee, the Home Secretary failed to tell us how she will find the 154 vulnerable children missing from Government asylum hotels; how many asylum caseworkers actually work in her Department; and how many of the 12,000 Albanians who arrived on small boats last year have been returned. It is a scene of crisis and chaos. The Conservatives have taken a sledgehammer to our asylum system, and British taxpayers are paying the price.
Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of this whole fiasco is that the Government never take responsibility and always try to pass the buck. They blame the British legal system, the civil service and the EU—they even blame the football pundits—but they have a working majority in this place, so this is on them and them only. They have failed, so they need to get out of the way. We need a general election, a Labour Government, and our comprehensive plan to stop the boats and fix the broken asylum system—and we need it now.
Order. It is clear to me that this debate is going to go the distance, and a number of people are trying to catch my eye. We have only two hours left, so may I ask for brevity, as it would be incredibly useful in trying to get everybody in? I call Theresa May.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to concentrate my remarks on Lords amendments 2 and 56. I welcome the Government’s movement on the issue of retrospection. Whatever the motivation, it does mean that people who come here and are subjected to slavery, and who arrived after 7 March and before the commencement of the Bill, will get support. I welcome that.
However, of course I want support to continue for the victims of modern slavery here in the UK after commencement of the Bill. Hence my interest, as a former Home Secretary and long-standing Member of this House, in Lords amendment 56, which was tabled by Lord Randall. The Bill has been marketed as a stop the boats Bill. We all want to stop the boats. Nobody wants to see people risking their lives in small boats going across the channel, as we do not want to see people risking their lives in unseaworthy vessels going across the Mediterranean. However, this Bill is not just written to stop the boats; it covers all illegal migration and its unwritten subtext is the “stop certain victims’ claims of modern slavery” Bill. This is not about stopping false claims of modern slavery; it is about stopping all claims, full stop. That is where I depart from the Government.
When I was Home Secretary, we were very clear that modern slavery should not be seen as part of the immigration issue, but the Government are now taking those two together, and that is one of the difficulties. It is not clear what problem will be solved by saying that people who are here illegally cannot claim modern slavery and cannot be afforded the support and protection afforded to modern slavery victims, and, therefore, it is not clear why the Government want to reject Lords amendment 56.
Perhaps the Government’s concern is that people will come off the small boats and claim modern slavery, but the amendment does not allow them to do that. It has been suggested to me that a boat might land and not be apprehended, and when somebody is caught a couple of days later, for example, they would then claim modern slavery. First, let me say that the first responders, aided by the changes in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, should be well able to see through that. Secondly, the purpose of the Bill is to stop the boats, so if the Bill is successful, that situation will not occur.
Lords amendment 56 is not about small boats. Almost no one arriving on a small boat after commencement of this Bill will be covered by it, but I do want to set out the type of victim who would be covered by that amendment and, therefore, is now going to be denied support as a victim of modern slavery.
Let us imagine a young woman—it could be a young man but, given the numbers, it is most likely to be a young woman—who is persuaded by a male friend to come over to the UK for what he says will be a great job and a wonderful life together. Perhaps she thinks that they are in love, that this is a way of getting out of the debt she is in, or that she wants to leave a difficult family relationship or an abusive relationship. She comes with him, probably on illegal documents, but that is unbeknown to her. As soon as she gets here, she is put into prostitution and he benefits financially from that. Forced into sexual exploitation, living in appalling conditions and not paid, she is in slavery. After several months or perhaps after years, she manages to escape. Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, she could be provided with the support needs to get her life back and enable the police to identify and prosecute the perpetrators.
Under this Bill, the Government’s response would be quite different. She would get no support. The Government’s response would be, “We don’t care that you have been in slavery in the UK. We don’t care that you’ve been in a living hell. We don’t care that you have been the victim of crime. We do care that you came here illegally, even though you probably didn’t know it. So we are going to detain you and send you home, even if it is into the arms of the very people who trafficked you here in the first place. Or we want to send you to Rwanda.” No thought would be given to whether the young woman would get her life back and, crucially, no thought would be given to catching and prosecuting the perpetrators. The evidence of the police is clear: if we want victims to provide evidence to bring slave drivers to justice, the victims need time and support, and they need to be here. This Bill ties the hands of the police and undoes the good work of the Modern Slavery Act.
I know that Ministers have said that this Bill will enable more perpetrators to be stopped, but on modern slavery I genuinely believe it will do the opposite: it will enable more slave drivers to operate and make money out of human misery. It will consign more people to slavery. There is no doubt about it: if Lords amendment 56 is overthrown, that will be the impact.
The Minister has shown a willingness—he has described this at the Dispatch Box today—to look for mitigations. However, as he said, so far those mitigations have been offered as limited change and only in guidance, not in the Bill. The best mitigation would be not to press the objection to Lords amendment 56 and allow it to stand in the Bill. In the absence of that, I hope that the Government will stand by assurances they have given to find some workable compromise, but to put it in the Bill. The Government want to deny certain victims of modern slavery support, which will deeply damage the operation of the Modern Slavery Act. The alternative is to let Lords amendment 56 stand. If the Government persist in disagreeing with Lords amendment 56, I will have to persist in disagreeing with the Government.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I start by agreeing with the Minister on the vital role that the other place plays as a revising Chamber—
I absolutely forgive you for that, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I offer my apologies to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I look forward to hearing her remarks shortly.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), and I echo everything she said about modern slavery. I would like to say it is a pleasure to be taking part in a debate on this Bill again, but unfortunately it most definitely is not. Members will not be surprised to hear that the position of my party is that this remains a rotten, utterly misconceived and cruel Bill that will not stop boats but will cause immense human suffering to people who have fled persecution and harm. For the reasons we have just heard, it is a traffickers charter. It has been rushed through Parliament in a most appalling way, without consultation or proper scrutiny.
Although the House of Lords has done some decent work to date, forgive me if we are not popping the champagne corks at this stage. The 20 Lords amendments add a bit of polish, but they barely scratch the surface of the problems with the Bill, and experience tells us, unfortunately, that their lordships will be bargained down to three or four moderate concessions. They have already passed up the chance to refuse the Bill a Second Reading, with Labour peers abstaining for utterly unconvincing reasons. If it was a revising Chamber with any sort of teeth or credibility, it would at least be using its powers to delay this Bill and let voters decide this issue for themselves at the next election.
In that context, it is vital that we remember during today’s debate and the whole ping-pong process that only one solitary sentence in the Government’s 2019 manifesto referred to asylum. It was a very benign sentence:
“We will continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution, with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so.”
That was it. This Bill, and every single one of the Government’s motions to reject the Lords amendments, is completely and utterly contrary to that pledge. Without the amendments, the Bill will essentially stop the grant of asylum to almost anyone. Instead of offering support or an assisted return home to most refugees, it will enforce unlimited detention at the whim of the Home Secretary, permanent limbo, or threatened removal to Rwanda. Even children and trafficking victims are not to be spared, and the consequences for them will be horrendous.
This outrageous Bill, which rides roughshod over international law without any electoral endorsement, is precisely the sort of Bill that the House of Lords should be voting down and delaying. We can make that less necessary by agreeing to all the Lords amendments. That is the least we should do, and it really should not be too much to ask.
As we have heard, we are talking about amendments that will ensure compliance with our international obligations under vital international treaties such as the refugee convention, the European convention on human rights, the trafficking convention and the convention on the rights of the child. We are talking about basic respect for the rule of law, and my party wholeheartedly endorses Lords amendment 1, which incorporates those obligations into the Bill.
When the Minister was asked about Lords amendment 1, he said that it “goes without saying” that the Government adhere to their international obligations, but they have not been able to certify the Bill as compatible with the ECHR and the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights, under my chairmanship, said that the Bill risks breaching a number of our binding international human rights obligations. Is it not the case that, as things stand, the only way we have of putting that right is to support Lords amendment 1?
I absolutely agree. The most obvious example—I would say it is blindingly obvious—is the trafficking convention. That says that we must provide support to victims of trafficking, yet here we have a Bill that says the opposite. We are going to say, “Victim of trafficking or not, you are not getting support.” That is a blatant contravention of the trafficking convention, and that is why we need the treaties in Lords amendment 1 incorporated into clause 1.
Surely, the hon. Gentleman recognises that the point of Lords amendment 1 is to incorporate a whole range of international obligations into our law. It may well be that those obligations matter and that the Bill needs to be in line with them, but Lords amendment 1 would incorporate them into law. This is not the place to do that, and it is not the means to do it.
It is absolutely the place to do it, and it is essential that we do it, precisely for the reasons I have just given. Various provisions of the Bill clearly breach some of those conventions. I have just given the example of the trafficking convention. I cannot see how any sensible person can read the Bill and say that it accords with our obligations under the trafficking convention—I really cannot. I see no alternative but to support Lords amendment 1; in fact, I absolutely embrace what their lordships have attempted to do here.
We are also talking about amendments to stop mass and indeterminate detention at the whim of the Home Secretary. Very little attention has been drawn to those shocking and appalling powers today; I would have thought they would embarrass some Conservative MPs, yet we have barely considered them. We need to bring back the principle that it is for the courts to assess what is necessary to effect removal, rather than leaving it open to the Home Secretary to detain just for her convenience.
We are talking about amendments protecting pregnant women, and accompanied and unaccompanied children, from lengthy detention. The concession on pregnant women is a rare positive, and I welcome it, but the so-called concession on detaining children is nothing of the sort. It means that a few, but very far from all, will be allowed to apply for bail after eight days. That is not a time limit and it will not apply universally—far from it. We should not let the Government away with detaining hundreds and possibly thousands of kids indefinitely.
The Government have been forced to concede on amendments regarding the retrospective application of the Bill, which is good. Presumably, they do not want a backlog of 10,000 as soon as the Bill goes into force. Again, though, the concession does not go far enough, as important parts of the Bill will still be applied retrospectively. In the Government’s amendment in lieu, there is a power for Ministers to change the commencement date again. It would be useful at least to have an assurance from the Minister that that will not be used to put the clock back again, whether to March or to any other time before Royal Assent.
We are talking about amendments protecting LGBT people from removal to countries where they will almost certainly face serious harm. That protection is necessary, because the flimsy procedures in the Bill as it stood when the Government introduced it were totally inadequate to stop that happening.
We are talking about amendments to remove victims of trafficking from the Bill’s horrendous reach. As the right hon. Member for Maidenhead put it, without the Lords amendments, trafficking and slavery victims will have absolutely no incentive to seek support from the Government; in fact, they will have every incentive not to. Instead, they will be driven straight back into the hands of the people who have been exploiting them.
We are talking about amendments to stop the Home Office sticking children in hotels, from which hundreds have already gone missing. As the Children’s Commissioner for England and Wales said just yesterday, that cannot be allowed to happen.
We are talking about amendments to stop the Home Office removing children before the Home Office age assessment can be challenged. The Minister failed to mention that, in the majority of cases where there is a dispute about age, the Home Office is shown to be wrong. There is an appalling danger that unaccompanied children will be kicked out of the country before they have the chance to challenge the assessment that has been made about them.
We are talking about amendments to strengthen the pathetic safeguards in the Bill so that those challenging removal do not need to meet impossible tests of imminent, serious and irreversible harm. We are also talking about amendments to reinstate the fundamental right to challenge potentially illegal Government removal decisions through judicial review before people are stuck on a plane. Again, we are simply asking for respect for our courts and the rule of law. We support the worthy amendments tabled by the Archbishop of Canterbury to support safe routes and a proper strategy.
We support the pivotal Lords amendments that say that we should process asylum claims from children, and claims from people who are not removed within six months, just as happens now. Without that amendment, many thousands of people will end up permanently in limbo—either in indefinite detention or being supported indefinitely—or going underground because they have no incentive any more to keep in touch with the Home Office.
It shows how extraordinarily far to the extremes this Parliament has lurched that any of those Lords amendments are even controversial. All the risk assessments that the Government were forced to publish should have caused alarm bells to ring loudly. The Bill will be an absolute disaster, and an expensive one at that—in terms of spending and for the UK’s reputation, but most importantly for the lives of the people who are caught up in its tentacles. It is the desperate last throw of the dice from a desperate Government.
The real question is whether we will, for once, see some gumption and ambition from the second Chamber. There is no point in its passing 20 amendments just to give them all up seven days later. If it is not this outrageous Bill that the House of Lords kicks into touch, then which one will it be? If not this attack on international law, utterly without electoral mandate, what will it take? If locking up children, handing powers to traffickers and destroying the asylum system does not spur the House of Lords into action, what will?
If the House of Lords is not going to use its powers now, what is the point of those powers? What is the point of the House of Lords, and what is the point of the Opposition appointing peers? The Bill does not just need all the Lords amendments retained; frankly, it needs stopped, and it is up to the House of Lords to make sure that happens.
I will aim to complete my speech in less time than it took the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) to start talking about the Lords amendments, which is what we are here to do—but we will see how we go. I declare an interest as the chair of a safeguarding board of a children’s company.
I thank the Minister for the extensive discussions that we have had about the Lords amendments. I fear that we have not quite got there, so we may be back here again in a while. There has been an inordinate amount of debate on the Bill, and a lot of work has been done in the Lords, which is why we have so many amendments.
I support the Bill and I want it to pass, but it needs properly to balance safe and legal routes, and assurances about looking after the most vulnerable—particularly children—with coming down hard on people who are gaming the system and do not have a legitimate case for claiming asylum in the UK.
I do not have time to talk about every Lords amendment, so I will focus on two main areas: child detention, and safe and legal routes. I am pleased and grateful to the Government for the progress that we have made on the detention of pregnant women; that was a no-brainer, frankly. I also have some concerns around the treatment of people being transported back to other countries on the grounds of sexuality, and I want further assurances on that from the Minister. I also have concerns about accompanied children. There is a real problem with so-called families, who have been put together by people smugglers, as the Home Affairs Committee saw when we went to Dover. We came across somebody claiming to be the uncle of a young girl and they did not even speak the same language. There are problems here, but I absolutely want to concentrate on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
I am also pleased that Lord Carlile’s amendments around retrospectivity have been accepted. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s 10-year strategy has some merit in it, but I do not think that it is for this Bill; it is a strategy for a Government rather than being for a piece of legislation such as this.
On the subject of child detention, despite the substantial discussions I mentioned, it would appear that the Government are setting out only a very narrow concession, just to give the possibility of bail after eight days to one small subgroup of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children detained on the grounds of removal only. The Government themselves said in March in guidance:
“A period of detention can have a significant and negative impact on a child’s mental or physical health and development”.
I think that we would all agree with that, so such detention needs to be used sensitively and sparingly.
This is a really sensitive issue. I think it was a proud achievement of the coalition Government when, after a Citizens’ Assembly back in 2010, David Cameron said that child detention was not acceptable and pledged to end it. It was part of the coalition programme in May 2010. Detention policy changed in 2011 and was codified in the Immigration Act 2014. Large numbers of children were being detained before 2010. There were 1,065 children being detained in 2009 alone. There was a case of a three-year-old girl who had spent 166 days of her life—her short life—in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. That was completely unacceptable, so it was right that the law was changed.
At the time, guarantees were also made in a debate on the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Government made explicitly clear their commitment to the rationale that unaccompanied children should not be blocked from claiming asylum and would be exempt from the inadmissibility process. As the Minister set out on Report of that Bill:
“I wish to emphasise that we will always act in accordance with our international obligations, and to be very clear that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will not be subject to inadmissibility or transferred for offshore processing.”—[Official Report, 7 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 311.]
There was merit in that then and there is still merit in it now.
This matter was raised as a priority issue in the Committee and Report stages of this Bill. The Minister promised us changes in the Lords. That is why we did not push to a vote the amendments tabled in my name and the names of other right hon. and hon. Members at that stage. However, I am afraid that the promise did not materialise in the House of Lords, and only now, with amendments in lieu, are we seeing some concessions at this late stage, which, frankly, is not good enough. That is why, I am afraid, there is some scarcity of trust in the assurances given from the Dispatch Box, rather than stuff written, prima facie, in the Bill, or in specific guidance linked to undertakings in the Bill. We need to see more details in the Bill, not just assurances from the Dispatch Box, which have not always been forthcoming.
In changing the law, we need to comply with a clear set of principles when we are dealing with vulnerable children. Children should be treated differently from adults. Any child in the United Kingdom is entitled to the same protections whether they arrive on a boat or they were born here. Whether we like it or not, a child is a child and, as such, should be subject to the safety of the Children Act 1989, which is as relevant today as it was when it was first legislated for.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I absolutely agree with the point that he has just made. This also fits in with the 1989 convention on the rights of the child, which the British Government very rapidly and quite correctly signed up to at that time. Withdrawing from that convention surely weakens that protection.
The paramount piece of legislation in this country is the Children Act 1989. We should be proud of it, as it is copied and envied the world over. That is how we in this country look after children who need the protection of the state for an assortment of reasons. In my book, the Children Act—I always carry it with me, and i have it here today—usually trumps everything else.
We know from the people who arrive in hotels that perhaps 20% of the migrants will be children—or say they are children. We know that that will be the case among those who arrive at RAF Scampton. As the Government are talking about 2,000 people coming here, we may need 40 or 50 social workers, which we cannot afford in Lincolnshire. We do not have the resources to look after these people properly, to assess them, to work out whether they are children and to decide how they are going to be looked after. Is my hon. Friend not making the point that it is much better to disperse people rather than to shove 2,000 illegal migrants in one place?
My right hon. Friend has ingeniously inserted into this debate his particular constituency interest, of which, I think, the entire House and the entire world is aware, and I have some sympathy with him. I agree that there is a problem with dispersal. The dispersal system is not operating properly in this country, which is why Kent in particular, which is at the forefront, has seen more than 600 children come through already this year, of whom many are still within the care of Kent. One local authority cannot be expected to deal with that; we need a better dispersal system, whereby the support services, as well as the fabric, are able to accommodate these children.
There is a specific problem with adults impersonating children. The Home Office’s own figures say that something like 47% of age-disputed children turn out to be adults, which means that 53%, a small majority, turn out to be actual children, although it has not published the evidence for those findings. The JCHR report quotes the Helen Bamber Foundation survey of 2022, which stated that 70 local authorities had had 1,386 young people referred to them, of whom 63%—almost two thirds—were found to be children.
It is really important to have effective and accurate age assessments, and it is really important to do them quickly. The Government assured me that they were bringing forward age assessments. They take, on average, six weeks—I do not know why they take six weeks; it should not take that long to do a Merton assessment and, potentially, some X-ray medical interventions as well. The Government need to speed up that process. If a child is wrongly assessed as an adult and deported, that cannot be corrected.
We have problems with hotels and missing children—I recognise that. We have problems with children potentially going underground as they approach their 18th birthday, as they may well be transported out of the country under the Bill. We have problems with 16 or 17-year-olds, or those purporting to be 16 or 17-year-olds, absconding if they are not in the secure estate. These are the complex problems that the Government have to face.
We also have a problem with the existing law, as there is just 24 hours to detain children for the purposes of transporting them out, which is not enough. We therefore have a lot of problems. However, Government amendment (a) to clause 12 in lieu of Lords amendments 31, 35 and 36 leaves clause 10, which had a lot of Henry VIII powers leaving decisions up to the Secretary of State, largely untouched. The Government’s amendment in lieu retains the position that bail cannot be granted for 28 days to those who fall within the Bill’s scheme. It retains that position for unaccompanied children too where they are being detained pending a decision to grant leave, limited leave as an unaccompanied child, discretionary leave or leave as a trafficking victim.
That means that for the purposes of initial processing, unaccompanied children will be in exactly the same position as anyone else who falls within the Bill’s scheme, that is, there is no statutory limit on their detention and they cannot be granted bail before 28 days. Unaccompanied child arrivals are to be treated the same way as adult arrivals in terms of their detention for initial processing, and the amendment provides nothing for unaccompanied children detained for that purpose. It would only allow for potential bail of an unaccompanied child who has been detained pending a decision to remove them or pending their removal, where the Government are using their discretionary power under clause 3(2) to remove an unaccompanied child while they are still under 18.
In those circumstances, which the Government contend will be the minority of cases, the unaccompanied child will, with this amendment, now have the opportunity of being granted bail after being detained for eight days. Whether in practice the child could apply for bail after day eight would depend on multiple factors, one key factor being whether the unaccompanied child had been transferred to local authority care and subsequently detained prior to removal, or had only ever been detained since arrival in the UK.
Other factors impacting whether bail is obtainable in practice would include where the child was detained, whether any outside services reached the child in detention, whether such services could refer to a lawyer with the capacity to take on the bail case in light of the failure of the legal aid market and legal aid advice, and whether the child has the capacity to instruct a lawyer. There are strong reasons to doubt whether the possibility of bail after day eight would necessarily lead to many, if any, unaccompanied children being released from detention in practice.
There is a currently nothing on the face of the detention clauses about age disputes, which I was assured there would be. There are no additional safeguards for them on the face of the Bill at all. A putative child who is treated as an adult would only be able to get bail after 28 days in line with the Bill’s detention scheme. Much of what I say is on the advice of Coram, which is highly respected for how it looks after unaccompanied child asylum seekers.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving me advance notice that he planned to raise the interaction of clause 12 and clause 10. If I may answer his point briefly, the amendment in lieu relates to the powers to grant immigration bail, so amending clause 12, which is the power to grant immigration bail, is the correct place to set out the eight days. The detention powers themselves remain the same. That provides additional judicial oversight of unaccompanied children. The reason for amending clause 12 is that it is the clause that prohibits the first-tier tribunal from granting bail until 28 days have elapsed from the first day of detention. There is no need to amend clause 10 to give effect to that policy change. Clause 10 deals with the powers of detention and says nothing on bail. I hope that that answers his concerns, but I am happy to follow up with him later if he would like.
I think we may have to, because that is certainly not my understanding. There are Henry VIII paragraphs in clause 10 that still give ultimate discretion to the Secretary of State, with or without what is going to happen to clause 12. I am afraid that is symptomatic of the continuing problems with the Bill. It has become so complicated, there are many double negatives within it and only last night, at about 7.45 pm, did the Government publish their amendments, which we had just a few hours to scrutinise before today’s debate.
This matter needs proper explanation and it has not been properly explained. The assurances that we were promised have not materialised—or, if they have, I am afraid no one understands them. On that basis I am afraid that we, and I hope I speak here for many on the Government Benches, cannot take these amendments in lieu at face value. More work needs to be done. I hope this House will make sure that this matter goes back to the Lords in order for further concessions to be given. Clause 10 certainly needs to be overhauled.
If we go back to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, there was a clear duty on the Secretary of State. Section 55(3) states:
“A person exercising any of those functions must, in exercising the function, have regard to any guidance given to the person by the Secretary of State”
for that purpose. There is no such undertaking in this Bill about having to observe and abide by guidance. Why not? Perhaps the Minister will come back to that in his response later.
The Minister keeps referring to the Detention Centre Rules 2001. They certainly need an overhaul, but I repeat my earlier point: they are all about things such as clean clothing, access to nutritious food, respect for religion, family visits and so on. Where are the special provisions for support services specifically for children, the child psychologists, access to social workers and other child support? That is what age-appropriate accommodation and support means—not just a suitable house that, without wishing to labour the point again, may or may not have cartoons on the walls.
Also, the Government have to admit that although those detention laws have been in place since 2001, that did not stop young children, and young children with families, being detained, for upwards of two weeks in some cases, at Manston, and certainly not in age-appropriate accommodation. Frankly, I am afraid that the system is not working now, yet we are looking to dilute the age-appropriateness of what is now on offer. That is where we on the Conservative Benches have serious concerns, and it is not just us: many children’s charities are concerned, and the Children’s Commissioner said:
“The Home Office has still not been able to provide me with vital information I have requested about the safeguarding of children in their accommodation. I am therefore unclear about how they can make informed assessments about the impact of the Home Office accommodating children without having this data.”
We were led to believe that there would be clear distinctions for children who are clearly and genuinely children: they would be detained for no more than eight days on the way in as well as, potentially for a few, on the way out; they would have age-appropriate accommodation; and there would be some form of foster care, children’s homes or whatever it may be. There would then be differential accommodation for those for whom there is an age-verification question mark. We do not know if that accommodation exists, what sort of accommodation it will actually be, or how we will separate adults from those who turn out to be children.
The Minister assured us that if age-appropriate accommodation was not available for that subset, they would be treated as children and subject then to the lesser restrictions on genuine children. That is not in the amendment and it is still not in the Bill. What and where is the available accommodation for children and for disputed children? What is the legal status of detained unaccompanied children during that eight-day period, where it applies to them? What local authority duties apply on arrival and for the eight days, and what is the Home Office responsible for in those eight days? Do the children retain looked-after status while detained, or does the Home Office propose that that status ceases, as with a custodial sentence?
Those are, I am afraid, all the questions to which we needed answers, but we are still in the dark with the amendments tabled in lieu, which is why we just cannot support them. This is a far cry from the undertakings in the Immigration Act 2014, which states:
“An unaccompanied child may be detained under paragraph 16(2) in a short-term holding facility for a maximum period of 24 hours”.
In the absence of a suitable amendment in lieu covering all those considerations, as promised, I am afraid that we must oppose the amendment in lieu. Although it would revert to Baroness Mobarik’s amendment to return to the 24-hour status quo, which is not practical, I agree—we will have to come up with something more—that is all that is on offer at the moment.
I will be very brief, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I have broken my pledge. I was pleased that we got safe and legal routes on to the face of the Bill, and that some concessions were made in this place on the understanding that they could be beefed up in the House of Lords. That is what the noble Baroness Stroud’s amendment would do. Clause 59 only accepts a duty to produce a report—a work that requires consultation with local authorities. That should be happening now; it should have started months ago, so saying, “Oh it is going to take several months; we need to do the consulting” is nonsense. That work should already have started.
All the clause amounts to is a loose assurance that something will come in by the end of next year, and it is not in the Bill. The Baroness Stroud amendment seeks to make regulations come in within two months of the report. As she said on Report, her amendment
“is designed purely to place a duty on the Government to do what they say they intend to do anyway—introduce safe and legal routes”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 July 2023; Vol. 831, c. 1248.]
That goes beyond just reproducing a report on how they might do it.
That is what we need to see, and it is why I will vote against the amendment in lieu of the child detention. I will vote in favour of the Baroness Stroud amendment on safe and legal routes. I will certainly not repeat everything that was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), but she made a strong case, and I am tempted to follow her into the Division Lobby on the Randall amendment as well. Those are the three main areas. There is still much more work to be done on the Bill, so that is how I will vote, and I urge hon. Friends to do the same.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I will try again.
I want to start by agreeing with the Minister about the vital role that the other place plays as a revising Chamber in asking us to look again, particularly when we have not had pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill and when, as I think most Members would agree, this legislation has been rushed through Parliament. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) about how complicated the Bill has got and the fact that we have not had much time to consider the amendments tabled by the Government late last night.
I also want to say at the outset that, in our report on small boats last year, the Home Affairs Committee made it very clear that it was not the number of people coming across in small boats that has overwhelmed the asylum system but the failure to process the asylum applications that have been made over a number of years. The Home Office has allowed the backlog to grow—it is now over 170,000—which has the effect of gumming up the system, and that is why we are spending £7 million a day on hotels. I know that the Home Office has in train plans to deal with the backlog, and the Prime Minister has said that the legacy backlog will be cleared by the end of the year. We all want to see that happen; it is in no one’s interest to see that backlog grow even more.
The right hon. Lady is right about processing being a key part of dealing with the backlog, but Lords amendments 7, 90 and 93 would allow for further legal challenges, create more delays and, in her words, gum up the system to an even greater degree than it is now. Surely she does not support that attempt to undermine the principles of the Bill and add to the very problem that she is articulating.
What I want, and what the Home Affairs Committee has been very clear about, is an efficient, speedy asylum claim process that is fair but timely. Germany, for example, has far more asylum claimants than we have and manages to process its claims within seven months. Many of the people who claim asylum in this country are waiting for years. That is why we have got ourselves into the problem that we are trying to address through the Bill.
I say to the hon. Member with the greatest respect that he might want to look at the Home Affairs Committee report on small boats, published last summer, in which we made a number of key recommendations for how the Government could start to address the small boat problem, one of which was, as I started off by saying, addressing the backlog. We know that people can come to this country, disappear and feel that their claims will not be heard for years. That is not in anyone’s interest. If he takes the time to read the report, he might get some idea of the recommendations that we have put forward cross-party, including a pilot to allow processing in France, to stop people making that perilous journey across the channel.
I turn to the Lords amendments. First, I want to deal with the removal of retrospective application under Lord Carlile’s amendment. I am really glad to see that the Government have agreed to remove the retrospective element of the Bill, with Royal Assent as the start date, which means that there will not be an immediate backlog of people waiting to be deported. However, this could provide a false sense of security about the Bill’s implications.
It seems to me that when the Bill becomes an Act, a new backlog will be quickly growing, with thousands of people detained if we see the same numbers coming across in small boats that we have seen in the last few weeks and months, and we have no third country to send them to. With the Court of Appeal judgment now being appealed in the Supreme Court, we do not know whether the Rwanda plan will be lawful. So far this year, over 12,500 people have made that dangerous channel crossing to the UK. There may well be hundreds more arriving each month once the Bill is enacted, and I am concerned about what happens to them.
Even if the Rwanda plan ultimately gets the green light, the Government have yet to provide any evidence of the number of people who could be sent there—that is not clear. In fact, I was looking at documents relating to the Home Office’s business plan yesterday, and the Home Office was working on the assumption that just 250 people would be removed to a third country each month, yet 3,824 people crossed the channel in June this year alone. As such, on top of the current backlog of asylum applications that I just talked about—which now stands at over 170,000—the Government could see the creation of yet another backlog, one of people stuck in detention potentially awaiting a flight to nowhere. That concerns me.
I want to comment on the subjects of modern slavery and trafficking, because the Home Affairs Select Committee is currently in the middle of an inquiry into trafficking. I agree with all the comments that were made by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). Take the example of a sex trafficking victim, perhaps tricked by the right hon. Lady’s analogy of the lover-boy model—a woman trafficked from abroad into the UK to be raped by men for money. We on the Committee heard that this happens every day in almost every hon. Member’s constituency through the use of adult service websites such as Vivastreet. As the Home Secretary confirmed to me at the Home Affairs Select Committee last month, under the unamended Bill, if that woman came to the attention of the authorities, she would be subject to arrest and deportation if she had been brought into the United Kingdom through illegal routes. Indeed, anyone subjected to trafficking or modern slavery in the UK who was transported here illegally would face a similar fate.
In her evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry on human trafficking, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead provided a frank assessment of the Bill’s likely consequences:
“The Illegal Migration Bill risks people being left in or consigned to exploitation. They will be fearful of seeking help, because the traffickers will use this legislation to control them further, and they won’t trust the authorities…I believe if the Illegal Migration Bill is enacted as it is currently proposed, it will leave more people in slavery unwilling to come forward to UK authorities.”
That is quite stark from the midwife of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and one who has done so much to promote the United Kingdom as a beacon for tackling the scourge of modern slavery and trafficking.
The Children’s Commissioner has provided a similar assessment of the Bill’s implications for child victims of modern slavery:
“These victims will be incentivised to avoid seeking support and help, out of fear of deportation.”
It must be right that when a victim of trafficking or modern slavery is found, they are given the help and support they need, not detained and deported. That is why Lords amendment 6 and its consequential amendments must remain in the Bill, ensuring that all trafficking and modern slavery victims have access to the support and protection they need.
I will now turn to the subject of children. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, who has extensive knowledge of this area, has raised a number of really important points that I hope the Minister will be able to respond to. As we know, the Illegal Migration Bill will overhaul our immigration laws for the purpose—we are told—of deterring people who arrive via illegal routes. I would say that the measures proposed in the Bill are rather blunt, unforgiving and undiscriminating, meaning that anyone whose journey here was not state sanctioned will be subject to detention and deportation, regardless of whether they were fleeing war or were trafficked. We are now debating the rights and wrongs of those proposals, and in this House, there are people who think those measures are absolutely the right thing to do and people who are opposed to them.
However, the overriding message of Lords amendments 8, 31 and 33—one that should unify us all—is “Leave children out of it.” The plea is: “Do not scrap what we already have as modest safeguards against further harm and exploitation of vulnerable children. Do not drop the existing time limits for detaining them. Do not bar them from accessing support provisions for modern slavery victims. Do not refuse to consider their claims for asylum, and for those children who arrive in the UK on their own and are taken into care, do not mark their 18th birthday by issuing them with a deportation notice, having refused to consider whether they should be granted permanent sanctuary.” As leading children’s organisations, including Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society, say:
“It is cruel and simply unworkable to have looked-after children spending their formative years in the UK without the Government even considering their protection needs.”
While the Government have made a concession on the detention of unaccompanied children, I am concerned that what this actually amounts to is that those children can apply for bail after eight days in detention, but there is clearly no guarantee they will be granted it. As has been said already, it is for a small cohort of children and it also requires access to legal advice. Lords amendments 8, 31 and 33 do nothing more radical than preserving existing child protections, and those amendments should remain in the Bill.
On Lords amendments 37 and 38 tabled by Baroness Lister, it should have been an absolute no-brainer to retain the 72-hour limit on detaining pregnant women. When the prisons and probation ombudsman conducted a review of the welfare of vulnerable people in detention in 2016, he concluded:
“I have not sought further evidence that detention has an incontrovertibly deleterious effect on the health of pregnant women and their unborn children. I take this to be a statement of the obvious.”
Yet we have had to spend time in Parliament debating whether the Government should keep the cap on detaining pregnant women at 72 hours or be allowed to detain them indefinitely. Bear in mind that, back in 2016, the then ombudsman recommended that the detention of pregnant women should end completely.
It could never seriously be argued that removing the time limit for detaining pregnant women was necessary for deterring illegal migration. We know that introducing the time limit did not prompt swathes of pregnant women to make the dangerous channel crossing. Indeed, it was revealed during the Bill’s passage in the Lords that,
“since January, no pregnant migrant women have arrived in this country illegally.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 July 2023; Vol. 831, c. 1011.]
The organisation Women for Refugee Women points out that
“the restrictions placed on pregnant women’s detention since 2016 has not had an ‘incentivising’ effect for women claiming asylum in the UK.”
While the benefits of detaining pregnant women indefinitely are hard to see, the costs are all too clear. The Royal College of Midwives points out:
“There is incontrovertible evidence that pregnant asylum seekers have poor pregnancy and neonatal outcomes and complicated pregnancies with increased morbidity and mortality… The detention of pregnant asylum seekers increases the likelihood of stress, which can risk the health of the unborn baby.”
The Government introduced time limits on detaining pregnant women for a reason in the first place, and that reason has not changed. On the concession that they have granted, which is that pregnant women can be detained for no more than 72 hours without ministerial approval, which could then go up to seven days, as I understand it—perhaps the Minister can help me with this—that could result in a woman being detained, being released and then being detained, being released and being detained, because this does not say it is just a one-off.
Finally, I support Lords amendments 102 on safe and legal routes. It is clear that giving a two-month period for the Government to come back with a plan of implementation for safe and legal routes is a very sensible measure. The Home Affairs Committee made it clear in our report that safe and legal routes was one of the clear recommendations the Government should adopt if they seriously want to tackle the small boats problem. I also support Lords amendment 103 on the National Crime Agency and organised immigration crime enforcement, which I think is a very useful and helpful amendment, and Lords amendments 104 and 107 from the Archbishop of Canterbury on the 10-year strategy on refugees and human trafficking, which I again think would help the Government in dealing with the small boats problem.
I will begin with Lords amendment 2, which would remove the retroactivity provisions that state that the Bill would apply to anyone who arrived on or after 7 March 2023, which is the date that the Bill was introduced in the House. There is a good reason generally why we do not allow legislation to apply retrospectively: so that there is legal certainty and people are bound only by the obligations that apply at the time. I accept without reservation that the law would be in disarray, for example, if new criminal offences had retrospective effect and people found themselves criminalised for things that they could not possibly have known to be unlawful at the time.
I respectfully submit, however, that this is not that kind of point. There is no principled argument to be made. First, the Government made it clear that the date the Bill was introduced was the same date on which it would become effective. Secondly, a person cannot argue in any compelling way that they decided to make an illegal crossing to the United Kingdom in March because they believed that they might end up in a hotel in Southampton, but now that they know they might have ended up going to Rwanda, they would not have made the illegal crossing. I am afraid that that argument does not work at all. I accept the Government’s position that the only way in which the policy will have the desired deterrent effect is if it has retrospective effect, so that we do not create perverse incentives for people smugglers to surge the crossings immediately before the Bill receives Royal Assent.
The second tranche of Lords amendments includes those that the Immigration Minister identified as wrecking amendments—amendments 1, 7, 90 and 93—and I will deal with them collectively. Lords amendment 7 seeks to strike out clause 4(1)(d), which states that removal should take effect irrespective of whether there is a judicial review application. Lords amendment 90 seeks to strike out clause 52, which states that interim orders may not halt deportation. Lords amendment 93 seeks to strike out removal pending an age verification appeal.
There is a wider point about those amendments. Collectively, they seek to dilute the deterrent effect of all removal provisions. Whatever we disagree on in this Chamber concerning current migration, we can probably achieve a consensus on one point: this situation will not get any easier to resolve. Whether the UNHCR is correct in saying that there are 100 million displaced people, or whether there are tens of millions, the reality is that famine, climate change, flooding and conflict will result in more and more people leaving their countries of origin to try to come elsewhere.
Any nation that tries to resolve the situation in its domestic arrangements will have to follow a strategy similar to the one that the Government are pursuing. The first element of that strategy is to decide on a cap for admissions and then—likely with UNHCR support in the future—to give proper consideration in advance to who should come under the quota scheme. The current schemes that are working very well in relation to Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong provide a good starting point. The second element is to deter all illegal migration by ensuring, with only the narrowest of exceptions, that an individual gains absolutely nothing from doing this.
The objective of the Illegal Migration Bill and, by extension, the Rwanda scheme is to remove illegal immigrants quickly without prejudice to their wider right to challenge the deportation order later, because the rationale is that speedy deportation deters others from coming to the country. Many eminent people agree with that proposition. As the former Supreme Court Justice, Lord Sumption, said in his foreword to Professor Ekins’ recent paper for Policy Exchange:
“This objective is frustrated if deportees are able to hold up their removal for years while their challenge goes through potentially three tiers of appeal followed by a petition to Strasbourg. The process commonly takes years.”
He continued by stating that “whatever one thinks” of the Rwanda scheme, if
“interim measures are available in cases like this, it is probable that no legislative scheme for the prompt removal of illegal immigrants”—
could ever “succeed.”
My hon. Friend is making a well-made argument, and she is right about those amendments from the Lords that are designed to undermine the principle and practice of this Bill. Would she extend to legal migration her sensible suggestion that the safe and legal routes recommended by various people across the Chamber need to be capped? We cannot continue to grow our population to the tune of 600,000 a year without placing unbearable pressure on our public services, making the provision of housing impossible and changing the face of our country forever.
I will come back on two points. First, under the Bill, annual quotas will be decided upon with the consent of various local authorities that will be responsible for accommodating those people, and that is the right approach. On illegal migration, people arriving through irregular routes should not take precedence over those arriving lawfully through safe and legal routes. We could not allow a system where one displaces the right of the other, and that is a feature of this Bill.
The second thing I want to talk about is the effect of judicial reviews. Lords amendment 7 would permit judicial reviews. I cannot improve on the language used by David Blunkett when he was Home Secretary, introducing Labour’s flagship immigration Bill, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which was supported at the time by the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). I wanted to refresh my memory of what he said on Second Reading, because it was a powerful part of his speech. He said:
“At the moment the system is virtually unworkable. People can bring a judicial review during the process of the initial appeal, and when they reach the right to appeal to the tribunal they can judicially review the tribunal for not allowing the appeal to the tribunal. They can then judicially review the tribunal’s decision and they can judicially review whether they are entitled to go to the court of appeal following failure at the tribunal. The whole system is riddled with delay, prevarication, and, in some cases, deliberate disruption of the appeals process. Then they can judicially review the decision on removal even when the appeals have been gone through.”—[Official Report, 24 April 2002; Vol. 384, c. 355.]
We have simplified the system a bit since then, but effectively he is right. He was right then to seek to effect removal after one right of appeal had been exhausted, and the Government are right now to aim for swift removal without judicial review holding everything up.
My final point, briefly, is about the speech that the former Supreme Court Justice Lord Brown made on Second Reading of this Bill in the Lords. He sat as a Cross-Bench peer, and he died on Friday. He said:
“No doubt the Bill can be improved in various ways, but we must recognise that almost every amendment we make to soften it can tend only to weaken its essential objectives: stopping the boats… We really must…give the Government the opportunity by this Bill finally to confront this most intractable of problems.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 May 2023; Vol. 829, c. 1806.]
I start by referring Members to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests for the support I receive from the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy project.
Despite their lordships’ best efforts, this remains in my 18-plus years in this place comfortably the worst piece of legislation I have seen come to this House. That is not because I disagree with it—I have probably disagreed with most stuff in my 18 and a bit years here—but because it is based on several bogus understandings of the truth. Within it, there is a deplorable bias towards the inhumane.
To start with Lords amendment 1, we have an attempt to get the Government to do something massively radical: to comply with international obligations. The notion that we should not do that, or that we do not need to do that, is based upon the desire to depict the current situation—the boats situation and the asylum situation in the UK—as an emergency. I will come to that in a moment.
The two likely consequences of the UK habitually choosing to not comply with its international obligations are: first, that we become a pariah, and are seen internationally as not a team player, and thereby we are less effective in all parts of our policy around the world, whether economic, defensive or otherwise; and, secondly, that others will copy us and, as a consequence, the whole system breaks down. I often hear Members on the Government Benches say, “France is a safe country, why don’t people stay there?”. The simple answer to that is, “Yeah, it is. So is Spain and so is Italy.” If we end up in a situation where other people copy us, the whole network breaks down and we end up in a desperate situation. If we care about our position internationally, we need to care about that.
Let us turn straight to the Government’s justification for not complying with their international obligations, including issues to do with modern slavery and child detention, on which the Lords has made helpful amendments. Their explanation is that the situation constitutes an emergency. Does it? In the Home Secretary’s words, we are currently being swamped by refugees. Let us look at some facts to see whether either of those things bears any scrutiny. As we speak, Germany takes four times more asylum seekers than the United Kingdom, and France takes 2.5 times more asylum seekers than the United Kingdom. If we were to add the United Kingdom back into the European Union for statistical purposes, just 7% of asylum seekers would come to the UK and, per capita, the UK would be 22nd out of 28. Demonstrably, the United Kingdom has not faced an especial problem. We are not being swamped, and such language is demeaning of this country and of the office of Home Secretary.
The Government say, “Ah, but it’s different here, because we’ve taken in 250,000 Ukrainian refugees as well as those coming in through other routes.” I am utterly proud that the United Kingdom has been among those countries who have taken in the most Ukrainian refugees, but we have not taken the most. Germany has taken 1 million Ukrainian refugees and, as I said, it still takes four times more asylum seekers than us, and Poland has taken 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees. It appears that talking about our support for Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees is an excuse for the Government in seeking to avoid their international obligations.
Britain’s problem needs to be put into overall context. The reality is that 70% of the millions of displaced people and refugees on planet Earth flee either to a different region of their country or to a neighbouring country. A steadily decreasing trickle of people end up at the end of the line—and, my goodness, the United Kingdom, over the channel, is the end of the line. Again, for us to state that we face an especial emergency in terms of the numbers of people coming here is totally bogus. It is important to state that and put it on the record.
I am astounded to hear the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I sometimes come into this place and think that I am in a parallel universe. I do not know whether he gets out much, but if he speaks to his constituents as often as I speak to mine, he will know that they do see this as an emergency. One hundred thousand people have crossed the channel on small boats, with every one of them knowing that they have arrived here illegally, and he will know that we are spending £6 million a day on 300 hotels to accommodate them. If that is not a crisis or an emergency, I do not know what is.
I will come to the emergency, which the right hon. Gentleman set out towards the end of his remarks—the emergency caused by Government incompetence in not clearing the backlog. When we look at the numbers coming to our shores—I am sure he knows this as he has seen the figures—we see that statistically, compared to other countries of similar size and stature, the United Kingdom is not overwhelmed. What we are overwhelmed by is the consequences of the Government’s own incompetence.
I will wager, dare I say it—I am not a betting man—that I speak to my constituents more than the right hon. Gentleman speaks to his, and my constituents represent the values of the United Kingdom. They believe that it is right to provide sanctuary to those who present as refugees and that, in any event, even if those people are not refugees, we will only ever know that if we process them properly, which is what a competent, decent British Government would do.
I have received hundreds of emails from my constituents. Does the hon. Member agree that the Bill will lead to more misery for thousands of refugees, cost taxpayers millions and cause chaos to a system that is already on the brink of collapse?
Yes, I think it will. I was visiting a hostel for people seeking asylum in this country a few months ago in Cumbria. One gentleman had been an interpreter for the British and American forces in Afghanistan, and we had left him behind. By hook or by crook he got himself here, and he had been waiting more than 12 months for his case to be heard. He got to the stage where he almost did not care if he got kicked out; he just wanted a resolution. That is miserable. Those people are getting the blame, from this Government and some of their supporters, for the consequences of the Government’s own failure and incompetence. That is shameful. I would be ashamed of that if I were sitting on the Government Benches. I know that some are, to their credit.
Talking of shameful things, let me move on to child detention and Lords amendment 8. As at least one Government Member rightly said, one of the great achievements of the coalition Government was the ending of child detention under a Conservative Prime Minister. Those on the Government Benches should be proud of that. The Refugee Council estimates that the Government’s proposals would potentially lead to 13,000 children being detained as a consequence of this legislation.
The real question for the House—for the country, actually, but for Members here in particular—is, do we see a child asylum seeker primarily as an asylum seeker to be deterred or as a child to be protected? If the answer is not the latter, I am sorry, but shame on you. An argument is made by some that if we do not detain children—by the way, teenagers are children too, as I am a parent of several—we will create a pull factor. The fact is that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has demonstrated that there is no evidence for that whatsoever. Even if there were some evidence for not detaining children being a pull factor, in what moral universe would it be okay for the Government to use children as collateral to achieve their policy aims? Again, that is outrageous.
On modern slavery and Lords amendments 6 and 56, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who is no longer in her place, made an outstanding speech. She introduced the modern slavery legislation as Prime Minister. This Government talk about enacting many of the things in this legislation as enacting the will of the people and carrying out their mandate. As a former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member had a mandate, which I am sure the whole House supported, to deliver that modern slavery legislation. I am proud of that, as should she be. How does that mandate not trump the apparent mandate to put those victims of modern slavery at such terrible risk?
The simple fact is that if someone is a victim of trafficking and modern slavery, because of the Bill and the failure to accept the amendments put forward, that person’s choices are to remain in exploitation, or go for prolonged detention or removal to Rwanda or some other country. For many victims of trafficking and exploitation, remaining in exploitation will seem the least worst option. Far from being an attempt to tackle evil gangs, the Bill plays into their hands. This is a traffickers charter.
Throughout the Bill we see the rhetoric of crisis, emergency and of our being overwhelmed. We are, indeed, overwhelmed—by the Government’s epic incompetence. Some 177,000 people are waiting for an initial decision. Those people do not want to be in hotels; they want to be processed. If the Government wanted to bring about a real deterrent, they would process people efficiently like other countries somehow manage to do, and they would return the ones who are not refugees. That would be a deterrent, but it is beyond the Government’s competence.
According to the Government’s own figures, of the top 10 nationalities of people presenting as refugees here, 80% are granted asylum. Even the Government’s own processes accept that they are genuine refugees, even though others characterise them in terrible and unflattering ways. Some 83% of them are from Sudan and 99% are from Eritrea. That is crucial, because there is no provision in the Bill whatsoever for those people to come here safely. It is so important that we tackle the issue of safe routes. A Government who were really serious in trying to stop the boats would do carrot and stick, so to speak.
The fact is this: desperate people will take dangerous routes until safe routes are available. If people have fled terror in whatever country—many are from the horn of Africa and have fled through the absolute hellhole that is Libya these days, and then crossed the Mediterranean— then I am sorry, but we are not going to deter them from taking a relatively short journey across the channel unless we provide safe routes. That is why the Government need to put safe routes on the face of the Bill. If they were trying to solve this problem holistically, they would make sure that safe routes were part of the Bill.
Briefly, on Lords amendment 9, in the name of my noble friend Lord German—[Interruption.] I am concluding—I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. Lord German’s amendment would prevent people from remaining in limbo. If the Government proceed with the Bill and cannot remove arrivals to Rwanda in time, the amendment would ensure that anyone who is still here after six months would be entered into the asylum system. That would be humane and would also prevent a greater backlog.
This is an emergency, but not compared with other countries. There is an emergency in that there is a global refugee crisis, yet there have been zero attempts, in any mature way, to make an intelligent, informed response to that international emergency—the opposite, in fact. What that does is alienate our allies who might help us to tackle it. Instead, we have an ill thought out attempt to tackle one symptom. The political emergency here is the Government’s desire to lash out, seeking culture war points and blaming desperate people for the Government’s own incompetence. The underlying attempt throughout the Bill is to make the UK unattractive. It is stupid to think—[Interruption.] I am finishing—I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is stupid to think that the rest of the world does not hear, and that only potential asylum seekers hear that. It undermines Britain’s reputation in the world. Patriots care about how we are seen around the world. That is why patriots oppose the Bill.
Finally, the percentage of people in this country convinced by the Government’s position on this issue is reducing by the day. They see it as a distraction from the fact that they cannot afford to pay the rent or the mortgage, or to feed their kids. The ultimate tragedy of the Bill is that it completely ignores the overriding problem. It will not fix the symptoms it identifies and it will not even give the Government the political benefit they crave, which is the one thing in this debate that constitutes justice.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will endeavour to be swift and to the point. Like the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), I must draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as someone who is sponsored by the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy project—RAMP—to provide research capacity.
As the Minister outlined, the UK has proved willing to rise to the challenge of the international refugee situation, with 550,000 people settled in the UK through humanitarian routes. In 24 years in a local authority covering the area of Heathrow airport, I certainly have experience of being on the receiving end of many different sets of Government policy—not just from the coalition and Conservative Governments, but from Labour Governments, too—many of which sounded very good when debated in this place but which did not always work in contact with the real world. I would express the concern that until we have a fully comprehensive asylum visa system, we will not have full control of the way in which we interact with the global refugee situation.
I want to see this policy pass through Parliament and be implemented in a way that works operationally to stop the boats and deliver all the other objectives that Members throughout the Chamber broadly support. There are clearly plenty of disagreements about the detail, but none of us wishes to see the continuation of the cross-channel traffic in human misery and criminal activity that the Bill seeks to address. I know that my constituents share the concern, beautifully expressed earlier, about the fact that we, as British people, believe in the fine old British tradition of queueing. When we see people using criminal means to jump that queue at a time when our country is seeking to be more compassionate through resettlement in a global world, we are concerned about that.
I remain concerned about a number of aspects of how the Bill will operate in the real world. It is enormously positive that the courts decided, having considered the matter, that the Rwanda policy was lawful and compatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations, but we cannot provide sufficient evidence of the effectiveness of one element of our agreement with Rwanda. That element is one example of the things that could, operationally, derail what we all agree are worthy objectives in the Bill. I took part in the Joint Committee on Human Rights evidence session that considered modern slavery in detail, and that has convinced me to follow the lead of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) this evening.
We need to ensure that we live up to the standards we have set for ourselves in this House, and that the positive obligations that much legislation, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the Children Act 1989, places on our public authorities do not undermine the objectives of the Bill. Detention is a good example of that. I totally agree with what the Minister said about his approach to the detention of unaccompanied minors. A major challenge for Hillingdon Council was the arrival of unaccompanied children at Heathrow airport. The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) will know that many of them were accommodated in his constituency, at Margaret Cassidy House and at Charville Lane children’s home, both of which I visited.
It was at the point of arrival that those children were at the greatest risk from traffickers. The right hon. Gentleman will remember examples of traffickers arriving on Bath Road to collect girls whom they had targeted for trafficking. We as the local authority were powerless to stop that, because there was no power of detention that we could use to keep those young people safe. In one case that I am aware of, Hillingdon recovered a girl from the sex trade on the continent of Europe, after six months of tracking her from place to place. During that time, she suffered a great deal of abuse, which potentially could have been prevented if we had been able to intervene more swiftly at the beginning.
I am entirely sympathetic to the Minister’s motivations for introducing provisions on that issue, but these questions need to be answered: who will ensure that the places where those children are accommodated and detained are of an appropriate standard? What discussions have taken place with local authorities, such as Hillingdon and Kent, to ensure that a secure estate, based perhaps on secure children’s homes, is available, so that the children coming through the system can be appropriately accommodated? What arrangements have been made with Ofsted—in my view, it is Ofsted, rather than the chief inspector of prisons, that needs to regulate this—to ensure that regulation will give us confidence that the accommodation for children, and for families, is appropriate for children?
Finally, I have asked this question many times, but I do not get the sense that we have reached an appropriate answer. The Bill sets out how individuals are to be dealt with under the asylum and immigration process, but it does not take away the obligations on local authorities under the Children Act, the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 or the Modern Slavery Act, or the other many obligations on local authorities. Members will say, “Let us pass this legislation and demonstrate that we are tough, and wish to stop the boats,” but in six months, will we be looking at a slew of judicial reviews that say that the policy was in conflict with the obligations on local authorities and the police under the Modern Slavery Act and the Children Act, and is therefore not effective?
If the Minister wishes to enjoy the full confidence of all Conservative Members, and wishes them to vote with the Government tonight and over the next few days, I urge him to address those points. Literally decades of policies from Governments of all parties have not quite managed to get to the heart of these issues. He must demonstrate that this policy will do that, and that it has properly covered all bases across government. He must demonstrate that the policy does not leave us vulnerable to finding that the boats do not stop coming; that the frustration of the challenges continue; and that people continue to die. This country wishes to show that it will not walk on by and ignore the needs of refugees, that we will be compassionate, and that we will prioritise our resources on international and global resettlement.
I, too, want to focus on the issue of children. The hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) discussed the coalition Government effectively banning the detention of children in 2014, which we all welcomed. I was part of the campaign to achieve that ban, because of my experience of the detention of children in Harmondsworth detention centre in my constituency. I visited those children, and when we explained to the world what they were going through, how they were traumatised and what impact that was having on them and their families, the world recoiled. We decided we would never have such a regime again, but my fear is that, gradually and incrementally, we are reverting to it. That is why I support Lords amendments 8, 50, 51, 31, 33 and 89.
First, I am concerned that we are bringing forward legislation that makes it inadmissible for unaccompanied children who come via the channel route to apply for asylum. Yet 96% of them, I think, actually get refugee status, which shows what need they have.
I am also worried about what happens to children who are detained. I am concerned that we are potentially reverting to the brutal regime of the past. When children were detained in detention centres and even other accommodation, the mental health impact was gauged as extremely severe, and it was lasting. Today, we have seen the amendment that the Government have brought forward on the time limit for detention, increasing it from 24 hours to eight days—as others have said, it is eight days before someone can apply for bail to a first-tier tribunal. My worry is that, in that very vulnerable period of their life, a child will be detained and trapped in the system, and the issue then is, detained where?
I raised the use of Harmondsworth with the Minister, and he gave me an assurance that that is not Government’s intention or the ministerial intention. I am sure that it is not this Minister’s intention, but Ministers and Administrations change. Unlike with the 2014 legislative commitment that we got, I do not believe that Government statements of intention are sufficiently strong to prevent us from reverting, unfortunately, to the detention of children in unsuitable accommodation and even detention centres. The reason we supported local authorities taking these traumatised children into care was that they have the range of expertise to provide them with the support they need. I am worried that we are reverting to type; time and again, we have explained in the House that the Home Office accommodation that has been provided is inadequate, as we have seen as a result of the number of children who have gone missing, some of whom have not even been found again.
I do not want to delay the House, because others want to speak, but I feel that the Bill is a reversion to pre 2014, and that is the result of the Government’s failure to take into account the range of views expressed in this House and elsewhere. It is the most vulnerable who need our support—our succour and our kindness—the most. The children are the ones who will probably suffer the most as a result of this legislation, and that is why I urge those in the other House to hold to their task of bringing some light of humanity to the discussion of this issue. I hope they will hold to their amendments so that this appalling Bill can at least be in some way ameliorated.
I rise to speak in support of the Government amendments in lieu of Lords amendments 2, 12, 20 and 22 and also Lords amendment 38, on pregnant women. I also want to touch on Lords amendment 104, which I oppose.
People in Southend West want a tough but fair policy on illegal immigration that stops people unfairly jumping the queue, stops evil people smugglers and, above all, stops vulnerable people drowning in the channel. Those, in a nutshell, are the reasons why I support this Bill, subject to the amendments I have just alluded to.
I reject entirely the characterisation we have heard from Opposition Members that we are, in some way, an ungenerous country. I believe we should all take pride in the UK’s rich history of rehoming some of the world’s most vulnerable and persecuted people. The Minister reminded us that we have taken more than 550,000 refugees from around the globe since 2015—the highest number since the second world war—including 100,000 Ukrainians, but people in Southend West do not think this generosity and humanitarian spirit should be extended to healthy young men from safe countries who have paid people smugglers to help them illegally cross the channel. That is what the Bill is all about.
The Minister reminded us that about three quarters of people crossing the channel last year were men over the age of 18. From 2021 to 2022, the number of Indian nationals crossing to the UK on small boats increased by over 900% from 67 to 683. India is a democratic country with its own space programme. More than 1,000 Turkish citizens came to this country illegally last year, but Turkey is a safe NATO country to which almost 2.5 million British nationals a year go on holiday. There is no reason whatsoever why Indians and Turks should be coming here illegally. There are schemes under which we would welcome them to come here legally.
Of course, this is deeply unfair on taxpayers and on those who come to this country legally. To put this point into perspective, the Government won a huge majority on a promise to level up this country, yet we now have a bizarre situation in which we are spending more each year on hotels to accommodate illegal migrants—estimated at £2.2 billion, or more according to the shadow Minister—than the Government’s entire budget for round 2 of the levelling up fund and three and a half times what we are spending on homelessness. This is unsustainable and deeply unfair on the vulnerable people in this country who need our support.
We have heard it said that this is not an emergency. It will absolutely become an emergency. Lord Hague wrote of Africa and the middle east in The Times today:
“If only one in twenty of the people of that region migrated by mid-century—surely a conservative estimate—there would be 140 million people on the move.”
That would be a complete emergency, so our migration system must send a clear message that people will not be allowed to come here illegally.
The Lords have sent us reams of amendments to consider, many of which are designed to frustrate the will of the people who put us here and to kick the issue down the road. That leads me directly to Lords amendment 104, in the name of the Archbishop of Canterbury. A 10-year strategy is all fine and well, but we need action now. We see on our television screens that people are drowning in the channel now. Of course the Government are working very hard on a long-term strategy, because other countries in Europe are facing the same problem, hence they are working with France, Italy, Albania and the EU. I reject the approach suggested by Lords amendment 104, as it is already happening and it is not addressing the emergency before us.
However, I am pleased that the Government have accepted some amendments, particularly on retrospection. There is a strong presumption in common law that statutes do not take retrospective effect, most recently summarised by Lord Kerr in the Supreme Court in Walker v. Innospec Limited and others:
“If we do something today…the law applying to it should be the law in force today, not tomorrow’s backward adjustment of it.”
In other words, retrospective laws undermine our rule of law, which requires that the law is capable of being known and enforced today.
I understand why it was thought that retrospective effect was needed, but those reasons do not apply now that the Rwanda issue needs to be resolved by the Supreme Court. I am therefore very pleased that this sensible amendment has been taken on board and that we will fall in line with this long-held legal principle.
The second issue relates to pregnant women. Obviously, protecting them is vital, and we must do everything we can to ensure that vulnerable pregnant women are not exploited or targeted by evil people smugglers. Last year, fewer than 1% of the illegal migrants who came to this country were pregnant, and I understand that this year the figure has been none. So we have to be incredibly careful that we do not create a perverse incentive that might inadvertently increase that number. We must be extremely aware that the people who would traffic women to this country are utterly without morals, so we do not want to find ourselves in a position where women become pregnant deliberately, or even worse are made pregnant against their will, in order to bypass detention rules. The Government’s amendment allows us to protect vulnerable pregnant women, ensuring that they do not spend unduly long periods in detention before they are processed. It strikes the right balance between treating these women with dignity and compassion, and not creating a perverse incentive that would target vulnerable women.
In conclusion, although our compassion in seeking to help people may be infinite, the people of Southend know that our capacity to do so is finite. That capacity to help is fundamentally undermined if we do not stop the boats and we do not stop people entering this country illegally.
I shall be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker, because we do not have much time, although there is a great deal I could say on this Bill. There could not be a greater contrast than the one between the cold, calculating speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) and the humanitarian approach taken by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) in trying to defend international law and humanitarian principles in what we do.
This Bill is appalling in so many ways, but it is walking us rapidly away from the European convention on human rights and, with it, the European Court of Human Rights; from the 1951 Geneva convention protecting the rights of asylum; from the 1954 convention protecting people who are suffering from statelessness; from the 1989 convention on the rights of the child; and from the 2005 trafficking of children convention. That is why I strongly support Lords amendment 1, which was introduced by Baroness Chakrabarti to try to reverse this whole process. If we walk away from international conventions that this country knowingly and willingly signed up for—indeed, we drafted many of them—who are we then to criticise Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Russia or any other country where we believe there is a breach of those convention rights? What protection would we be offering to people we know are already being badly treated and whose only protection is the rights that come through those conventions? The Government are cynically and deliberately doing this.
I attend the Council of Europe as one of our representatives, and I have to say that Members of the Council of Europe from many countries—these are not necessarily people of the left, by any manner of means—are astonished at how Britain is walking away from all these conventions that it promoted in the past. The response from those at the Council of Europe is consternation about why we are doing that. It is consternation at the endless attacks on the European Court of Human Rights and on the European convention on human rights, which protects the rights of people in this country as well as other countries around the world.
This did not all come from nowhere; it came from the hostile environment, deliberately created by the Conservative party and the coalition Government, which had such a devastating effect on the Windrush generation. It comes from constant media references to the “asylum wave” and the horrible stories that are written about people seeking asylum. As the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and others have pointed out, the number of asylum seekers in Britain is low compared with that in the rest of Europe, and the number in Europe is low compared with that in the rest of the world.
Why are there 70 million people around the world not in a place they can call their own home? The answer is: wars; human rights abuse; and environmental degradation. What are we going to do? Are we going to put up barbed wire everywhere, send gunboats everywhere, in order to try to deter desperate people? Or are we going to do something about it by trying to improve the living conditions of people in places that they are trying to flee from and improve their human rights situation? I have met people in Calais, and I have met people in this country who have come from Calais. Believe me, they are desperate. There are people who have managed to walk, almost, from Eritrea or Afghanistan. They have crossed the Mediterranean and other seas and gone through immense danger. They are looking for a place of safety—and what do we offer them? Nothing more than a hostile environment and being sent to Rwanda. Should we not look at this thing a bit differently? Should we not look at it from a humanitarian point of view?
Should we not also give refugees here the right to work? We have 100,000 vacancies in the NHS alone and a skills shortage in almost every industry, and we have highly skilled, highly intelligent people who could no longer stay in the country they came from and are looking for a place of safety. Perhaps we could be slightly more humanitarian and decent about this and accept that we have a responsibility.
We should accept that our country is enriched by those who have come here with their skills, knowledge and determination to create a better society, rather than passing this tawdry little Bill, which may well be rejected again by the Lords—I hope it is—and by the courts, knowing full well that even if the Home Secretary’s dream of sending so many people to Rwanda were carried out, they could not be housed or processed there. Can we not just turn the dial round for once and, instead of maintaining the pretence that this country was always friendly to people who are desperate, let us prove it and show that we are supportive and welcoming of desperate people who want to contribute to our community?
I will speak to Lords amendments 2, 12, 20 and 22, on arrangements for removal, to Lords amendments 31, 33 and 35 to 38, on arrangements for those under the age of 18 and for pregnant women, and to Lords amendment 102, on safe and legal routes.
Where the Government have given some ground on the Lords amendments and entered into discussion, I feel confident that the main ethos of the Bill is still there. I was really keen to ensure that. I did not want to see the Bill watered down. I liked what I saw when it left this place, and I did not want to see it weakened and made unable to deliver.
On under-18s, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) made the good point that we do not want a situation where there is a perverse incentive for young people to be sent by themselves. That is concerning to both of us. Age verification needs to be robust. We know that there is evidence of adults—particularly adult men—pretending to be under 18 when they are not. No one in this House wants to see children detained, and that was never the Government’s intention, but at the same time we cannot allow an opening for people who are not under 18 to get special treatment.
The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), said that there has not been enough time to scrutinise the Bill. This is an urgent situation. The Bill was introduced early this year. It appears to have been stuck in the other place for a huge amount of time; I understand that they have been up until 6 in the morning looking at it. I do not know how much longer the right hon. Lady would like this place and the other place to scrutinise this piece of legislation that needs to be implemented urgently.
I find it deeply frustrating when I see individuals who have never had to live with the consequences of uncontrolled mass migration and illegal migration, and people who have never had to talk to constituents who are desperately concerned about the situation—they may have hotels in their constituency that have been adversely impacted by it—opining and moralising about what they think is right and demonising anyone who supports a Bill such as this.
As I have said many times before, the House of Lords should tread carefully, because it is unelected. It is oh so tempting to moralise on this deeply complex issue without engaging in any plan, and there is no plan from the other House. Lords amendment 102 would introduce uncapped safe and legal routes. What would happen if we had alternative safe and legal routes that people could apply to? If they were uncapped, they would fill up incredibly quickly, and if they were capped, the cap would be met incredibly quickly and we would be back at square one. We would still have people entering our country illegally. What would we do then? That is not a plan.
Let me turn to Labour’s five-point plan of vagaries and platitudes—because that is what it is. All we hear about are safe and legal routes. Then there is the cross-border police force—as if that has not already been looked into. Labour Members say, “We have to do more to talk to France”. Again, it is as if we are not already doing that. It is as if the Prime Minister does not already have a good relationship with the President of France; he has, but we still are where we are.
Ultimately, this is an incredibly difficult situation. This can only work with the Rwanda plan. I hope that, when it comes to that Supreme Court judgment, the Rwanda plan will get the green light. However, the Government need to plan for the eventuality that that might not happen. There needs to be a plan B. We cannot put all our eggs in the Rwanda basket. I am confident that the Rwanda plan can make a significant contribution to tackling this problem, but I and many colleagues also believe that there needs to be a plan B.
I am sorry, but I will not be taking any interventions.
Ultimately, what Brexit was about in many respects was taking back control of our borders, and controlling the migration system. If it gets to a point where we feel that, even having delivered Brexit, the popular sovereignty of the people’s wish to decrease net migration and tackle illegal migration robustly is impossible, it is only right that we then look at the legal infrastructure and the different arrangements that this country is subject to. We must listen to the British people, the vast majority of whom do support this Bill. They want to see it enacted and I will be supporting the Government every step of the way. I really hope that, before we get to the summer recess, this vital Bill gets Royal Assent.
When the Minister was first appointed, I thought that he was largely going along with the Home Secretary’s language and policy on refugees and asylum seekers out of a sense of loyalty and collective responsibility. But as this Bill has progressed, it appears from the statements he has made in the Chamber and the responses he has given to questions and to Westminster Hall debates that he really has drunk the Kool-Aid. I think he genuinely believes the Government’s rhetoric: that this country is being invaded, that people who come here fleeing war, persecution and famine are actually economic migrants on the make, and that outright hostility and denial of their basic human rights is the only way to dissuade them from coming here. So hostile does he want the environment to be, he will not even allow a splash of colour and cartoons on the walls of the family reception centres. It is more than disappointing. It is worrying that the Government’s attitude seems to be that the way to stop people coming here from countries where they are at risk of oppression and human rights abuses is to create an environment that is at least as hostile as the place from which they are fleeing.
That would explain the Government’s opposition to Lords amendment 1. The safeguards that it provides should otherwise be seen as absolutely essential, and make it clear that nothing in the Bill requires the Home Secretary to break with international human rights law and the treaties and convention that this country has been signed up to for decades. Nowhere in the Conservative manifesto was there a commitment to take the UK out of these conventions, so their Lordships have every right to continue to press this and similar amendments during the next stages of their proceedings.
The Chair of the Justice Committee said earlier that this was an incorporative rather than an interpretive amendment. Perhaps the Lords will come back with something in lieu that will be more attractive to the more level-headed elements on the Conservative Back Benches. But then perhaps that is what the Government have been looking for all along—the Government want a fight with the House of Lords, they want a fight with the Supreme Court and the Home Secretary certainly wants an excuse to withdraw from the European convention on human rights. Those perhaps are the real purposes of the Bill, and the impact on refugees and asylum seekers is really only secondary.
It is ridiculous that we are being asked to consider these amendments barely 24 hours after the Lords gave the Bill its Third Reading. It shows the Government’s contempt for both Houses of Parliament. The explanatory notes and the amendment documents were only available through the Vote Office at 7.45 last night, as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, and yet the Government are proposing 58 motions to disagree with the Lords in their amendments this evening. If that is not picking a fight, I am not sure what is. Well, let us have that fight. Let us vote on all 58 of them and then see how desperate the Government and their Back Benchers are to get this Bill on to the statute book.
Almost all the amendments made in the Lords speak to a basic humanity and respect for the rule of law and the fundamental principles of the global asylum system. That is essentially what the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury’s amendment 104 calls for. Government Members may wish to wish those Lords away, but they are supposed to support the House of Lords and the system that exists. If they want to pick away at it, that is fine, because I do not think there should be a House of Lords in its current form.
I do not understand the hon. Gentleman’s argument. On the one hand, Opposition Members say that the Government are not doing enough, that they need to deal with the backlog, take action and be more decisive and radical. When the Government do become decisive, however, we are told that they are rushing the House, that they are going too fast and that we need more time, more machinations, more prevarication and more delay.
The Government are going about this exactly the wrong way, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry said earlier in one of her interventions. Many Lords amendments, especially those from the Lord Bishops, propose ways to deal with the backlog and provide safe and legal routes. Those are the amendments that the Government want to vote against.
In their increasingly desperate and craven pandering to what has become the Government’s electoral base, and to those elements on their Back Benches who have been returned to this House by that electoral base, the Government seem increasingly prepared to walk away from or even rip up conventions and treaties that past Conservative Governments and Ministers once had a hand in drafting. Once again, they are using their majority to simply override the considered proposals from a House of Lords that they nevertheless want to continue to pack with their donors, cronies and assorted time-served loyalists.
Among those amendments was yet another Dubs amendment, Lords amendment 8, under which unaccompanied children would essentially continue to have the right to claim asylum in the United Kingdom and the Home Secretary would not be able to declare them inadmissible. That is what the Home Secretary wants to be able to do—to declare young children inadmissible for asylum and leave them essentially in a kind of limbo in the UK until they are old enough to be sent back to where they came from, or perhaps to Rwanda or anywhere else that the Government can pay enough money to and hopefully get a court to declare is safe.
All that is supposed to have a deterrent effect and make the UK a less attractive place to seek sanctuary, but it is not working. The Bill has failed at its first hurdle. Clause 2 of the Bill was supposed to retrospectively apply its provisions to the day it was introduced to the House, 7 March 2023, and that was supposed to start to stop the boats. That was going to create the great deterrent effect, and it simply has not worked. The Government are dressing up their proposals in lieu of Lords amendment 2 as some sort of grand compromise, but in fact they are simply acknowledging the reality that backdating the Bill was not working and maintaining the clause would only create a greater backlog of cases for processing, at even greater expense to the public purse.
Of course, it would be better if many of the powers granted, and duties required of the Home Secretary, by the Bill did not come into force at all. The Lords were not content with Lord Paddick’s amendment to decline to give the Bill a Second Reading when it was first debated in their House, but there is still an opportunity to stop this Bill, perhaps in its entirety. There are mechanisms through double insistence or further amendments in lieu to dramatically reduce, delay or even halt the provisions of this Bill.
The SNP has never taken seats in the House of Lords, and I hope it never will, but for Opposition Members in particular who defend the role that it plays in the UK’s constitution, surely this is the time to call for it to play that role to the fullest extent. The Government have no mandate for the Bill and no mandate to undermine human rights agreements that have underpinned the world order since 1945. If the Lords will not stand up on those issues, then what is even the point of the House of Lords? If the Government are so committed to getting this Bill through, they have the Parliament Acts at their disposal, or they can put their proposals to the public in a general election.
However, in any future general election I am confident that people in Glasgow North will continue to vote to be part of a country and a society that recognises the duty we have to the poorest and most vulnerable, that reciprocates the hospitality and sanctuary shown to generations before us who left our country for other shores, and that says, “Refugees are welcome here.” If that country is not the United Kingdom, it will be an independent Scotland.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Lords amendment 2 disagreed to.
Disregard of certain claims, applications etc
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 6.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 6 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 7 disagreed to.
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 8.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 8 disagreed to.
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 9.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 9 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 12 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 20 and 22 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (o) made in lieu of Lords amendments 2, 12, 20 and 22.
After Clause 6
Restrictions on removal destinations: LGBT persons
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 23.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 23 disagreed to.
Powers of detention
Lords amendment 30 disagreed to.
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 31.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 31 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 32 disagreed to.
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 33.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 33 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 34 to 36 disagreed to.
Amendments (a) and (b) proposed in lieu of Lords amendments 31, 35 and 36.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Question put, That the amendments be made.
Amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendments 31, 35 and 36.
Lords amendments 37 and 38 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (e) made in lieu of Lords amendments 37 and 38.
Period for which persons may be detained
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 39.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 39 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 40 to 49 disagreed to.
Transfer of children from Secretary of State to local authority and vice versa
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 50.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 50 disagreed to.
Provisions relating to removal and leave
Lords amendments 51 to 55 disagreed to.
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 56.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 56 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 57 to 67 disagreed to.
Serious harm suspensive claims: interpretation
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 73.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 73 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 74 disagreed to.
Government amendment (a) made in lieu of Lords amendments 73 and 74.
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 90.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 90 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (c) made to the words so restored to the Bill.
Decisions relating to a person’s age
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 93.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 93 disagreed to.
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 95.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 95 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 95.
After Clause 58
Duty to establish safe and legal routes
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 102.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 102 disagreed to.
After Clause 60
Organised immigration crime enforcement
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 103.—(Robert Jenrick.)
Lords amendment 103 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 104 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 107 disagreed to. Lords amendments 3 to 5, 10, 11, 13 to 19, 21, 24 to 29, 68 to 72, 75 to 89, 91, 92, 94, 96 to 101, 105, 106, and 108 to 114 agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H(2)), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 1, 6 to 9, 23, 30, 32 to 34, 39 to 67, 93, 102 to 104, and 107;
That Robert Jenrick, Scott Mann, Shaun Bailey, James Sunderland, Stephen Kinnock, Gerald Jones and Alison Thewliss be members of the Committee;
That Robert Jenrick be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.